- John Quiggin argues that public services and corporate control don't mix - no matter how desperately the people seeking to exploit public money try to pretend otherwise:
Market-oriented reforms, particularly in the provision of human services like health, education and public safety, have begun with a working system and replaced it with a string of failed experiments.- Similarly, Andre Picard discusses the importance of a stewardship model for medicine, rather than allowing health needs to be governed solely by profit motives. And Martin Regg Cohn points out how the social guarantees provided by the Canada Pension Plan are only increasing in importance as workplace pensions become less secure.
Here are a few examples from recent news stories around the English-speaking world:
- The emergency closure of 17 Scottish schools due to safety concerns. These schools were built under the Private Finance Initiative, begun under Thatcher but greatly expanded by Blair and Gordon Brown.
- Crippling costs incurred by hospitals throughout the UK, again as a result of PFI, threatening insolvency for many hospital trusts.
- Private prisons operator Serco forced to repay bonuses in New Zealand.
- For-profit educator ITT closed down without notice, right at the beginning of a new semester, after being cut off from Pell grant funding due to allegations of misleading students. This is one of many such collapses.
- Following a damning report, the US Department of Justice announced it will no longer use private prisons.
- Charter schools (some openly for-profit, many others run as businesses) have been failing at a starting rate.
- The disastrous shift to for-profit vocational education in training, most notably in Victoria and more recently in NSW, where the number of students has halved in three years. The cost to the budget from unrepayable loans for bogus courses has been estimated at $1.2bn for 2015 alone.
Sooner or later the advocates of reform will have to answer the Edison-Blair question: “What works?” And what works is traditional public provision. Through all of these failed experiments, the public sector, much-maligned and chronically underfunded, has carried on with the hard work of educating young people, treating the sick and providing the vast range of services needed in a modern society, on a the basis of an ethic of service to the entire community, and not merely those who can pay for premium service.
- Robin Sears notes that progressives need to acknowledge the importance of effective public management, rather than waving away legitimate criticisms of government spending. But I'll argue that at the very least, right-wing anti-government spin should also be met with some of the many examples of the even worse consequences of leaving key issues in private hands - whether through privatized programs, or through complete abandonment to the corporate sector.
- Jason Warick reports on Winona Wheeler's message that all Canadians need to take responsible for reconciliation with First Nations. Ashifa Kassam writes about Grand Chief Stewart Phillip's lack of interest in empty gestures. And David Akin reports that the Libs' first wave of housing announcements falls well short of meeting even the most immediate needs.
- Finally, Branko Milanovic theorizes that inequality tends to be cyclical based on past changes in the relative wealth associated with rent as opposed to labour. But while he offers some useful theories as to how inequality might be reduced in the future, there's plenty of need for public action to bring them about (particularly a political turn toward more progressive systems of taxes and benefits).